Senior and sexuality

Closeness, intimacy and touch are lifelong needs that do not get old, even when we do. We may be graying but our sexuality evolves and changes over our lifecycle.

There are many facets of senior sex and sexuality. One can think of sex as what happens below the waist, and in between the legs (behaviors) vs. sexuality. Sex is also what happens above the waist in our heads and our hearts. Sexuality includes everything about us as human beings: our gender identity and expression, our need for touch/intimacy and our thoughts, feelings and values.

In talking about senior sex, it is important to address our sex behaviors. We need to talk about risk-reduction measures such as using condoms, not forgetting the lube, body positioning, playing with sex toys, etc. Remember, too, that age is not a factor for STI/HIV prevention.

Not to be overlooked in any discussion of senior sex is how our aging bodies physically change: weaker and/or shorter erections, drying vaginas, lower libidos and sagging boobs and bellies. However, in discussions with LGBT elders, what they most often talk about is intimacy, tenderness and touch.

The need for intimacy is ageless. We never outgrow our need for affection, emotional closeness and intimacy — sometimes referred to as “skin hunger.” Aging changes our perspectives on sex and sexuality. Often we can take the pressure off by putting aside our old ideas of what sex “should be.” Instead, we focus on the importance of tenderness and contact. When we do have sex, those encounters can be less “performance oriented.” As we age, our desire for sex may diminish, but our need for caring, comforting and intimate touch is as strong as ever. Even if you (or your partner) are ill or have physical disabilities, you can engage in intimate acts and benefit from closeness with another person.

Old and gay shouldn’t equal old and lonely.

LGBT elders may enjoy intimacy through coupled relationships as well as friendships. Some LGBT couples/singles may have a high degree of compatibility and mutual understanding. Other factors that may contribute to intimacy include emotional fidelity and sexual flexibility. That flexibility extends to sex roles, sexual role-play and roles within our relationships.

Intimacy for LGBT elders can mean companionship, affection and enduring tenderness and concern.

For some LGBT people, romance and intimacy may begin at 50 or 60 (or later). Many of us were closeted or married for much of our lives. Some waited until their family was grown, after divorce or the death of their spouse before coming out. For them, expressing intimacy in a long-awaited relationship is alive and well.

As you find yourself embracing your older identity, you can:

— Communicate. Share what makes you feel good with your partner(s) and share the aging changes you are both facing.

— Slow down. You and your partner(s) may need to spend more time touching. Sexual arousal takes longer and requires more manual stimulation. Do not underestimate masturbation: It can be extremely satisfying.

— Use your sensory skills. Explore all the tactile, visual, auditory and even olfactory aspects of being intimate.

— Play with the mood. Set the stage for a special experience. Experiment with lighting, music, candles, oils, perfumes and incense. Try a new place.

Reap the benefits of experience. The independence and self-confidence that come with age can be very attractive to your partner or potential partners. No matter your gender, you may feel better about your body at 72 than you did at 22. And, it is likely that you now know more about yourself and what makes you excited and happy. If you can accept aging as natural, you’ll not only feel better, you’ll also be more attractive to others. Confidence and honesty can be sexy and appealing.

Finally, we have made some progress since the 1960s in preventing older LGBT folks from facing the double stereotypes of gay and aging as they explore relationships, living arrangements and long-term health-care options. However, prejudice and shortsightedness still exist. There is still much work to do to educate society about LGBT elders and the fact that sexuality lasts throughout our lives.

Terri Clark, MPH, CHES, is prevention services coordinator for ActionAIDS. She is co-chair of the LGBT Elder Initiative, along with Heshie Zinman, longtime community health activist. To comment on this article, suggest topics for future articles or for more information, visit and watch for Gettin’ On each month in PGN.